HRAFF 2014 Film Picks

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia, an edited version is below.

HRAFF 2014

HRAFF movie reviews by Sonia Nair, Maya Borom and Sam Ryan.

With the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival just days away, the Right Now review team pick out some of the most intriguing films from the extensive 2014 HRAFF program, which offers the usual feast of informative and inspirational stories.

The Square

During 2011, the call to revolution rang out in Egypt’s renowned Tahrir square. Thousands of people called for an end to over 30 years of emergency laws and demanded the resignation of Mubarak and his regime from power. The protests started out as a peaceful sit-in but turned into one of the bloodiest revolutions in the nation’s history.

Jehane Noujaim’s The Square goes behind the scenes of the revolution, from the early stages of planning the occupation of Tahrir square to the 2012 presidential elections won by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, and disaffection with Morsi’s rule in 2013. It becomes clear that there are competing agendas and interests in ensuring the revolution is successful  – graphic footage captures civilians deaths at the hand of military whilst back-door deals between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military seemingly undermine the purpose of the revolution against corruption.

Featuring on-the-ground footage that has rarely been shown on mainstream media (if at all), as well as interviews with key organisers of the Tahrir demonstrations, The Square is an important document of a bloody era of modern Egyptian history. It captures the people’s struggle for democracy against an increasingly difficult political situation and provides insight into the hopes and dreams of millions of Egyptians who supported the revolution – some with their lives.

The Square screens 6.30pm, Thursday 8 May at ACMI. View the trailer:

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Brian Knappenberger’s investigative documentary The Internet’s Own Boy tells the story of Aaron Swartz, widely known as an American hacktivist and one of the founders of Reddit. Swartz was also at the centre of one of the biggest legal cases in US copyright history and found dead in his apartment after refusing to plead guilty to charges.

Swartz’s interest in systems and open data led him to advocate for open access to information and actions that eventually led to a tug-of-war involving the government and corporate copyright interests.

The documentary features interviews with family, friends and experts that provide insight into Swartz life, from an early age through to the days leading up to his death. It also illustrates the extent to which the United States government and commercial entities will go to protect commercial interests.

The Internet’s Own Boy raises important questions about the right to information – who owns information and who has the right to determine whom can have access to it and when.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz screens 6.15pm, Thursday 15 May. View the trailer:

HRAFF 2014 Gets Running with Deeks

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia

HRAFF 2014

Review by Maya Borom

HRAFF Gala featuring screening of Running to America

Running to America

Last week, the Human Rights and Art Film Festival celebrated the launch of its 2014 program with a fundraising Gala event at a packed St Kilda Town and screening of Robert De Castella’s documentary Running to America.

The Gala is HRAFF’s primary fundraising event of the year, with the proceeds going towards the following year’s acquisitions and day-to-day running of the festival.

Addressing the crowd via a pre-recorded commentary ahead of the film, De Castella introduced the Indigenous Marathon Project, which uses the New York Marathon to improve Indigenous health. He explained the motivations behind his involvement, not just in the project but in creating the documentary, and in personal terms as well as considering the long-term impact that training indigenous runners would have in local communities.

The Indigenous Marathon Project started out aiming to train Indigenous Australians in long-distance running with the end goal of having a competitor in the New York Marathon. It has since grown to include healthy-living advice and mentorship programs run by local squad members in communities as well as industry certification. The initiative has become immensely popular and project ambassadors include Charlie Maher, the first ever indigenous Australian to finish the New York Marathon and one of the subjects in the documentary.

Running to America follows four runners on their journey to compete in the New York Marathon and enter the history books as the first Indigenous Australians to ever compete in the event. De Castella’s carefully organised fitness and training timetables are often frustrated by the constant interruptions of life in the red centre – from rainy season to family issues with alcohol and much else in between.

It’s a hard journey for those hand-picked for the inaugural Indigenous Marathon Project and the grueling training schedule at the Australian Institute of Sport, which continued back at their homes, means the group has to remain regimented in their approach to training. Physical obstacles arise through training, such as wild town dogs following along and trying to bite the runners, impassable roads due to rain, a rolled ankle and a back injury.

As much as the documentary is a statement about the ability of the team to circumnavigate such issues, it also has a message about the ability of the government to provide a safe environment and opportunities for Australian youth, no matter where they may be in Australia. Of course, social and familial pressures also contributed towards difficult training sessions however these were overcome or dealt with in a way which allowed each member of the team to travel to New York to take part in the marathon. De Castella’s commitment to the health and well being of each and every runner in the group is obvious and there is a real sense of achievement in local communities around the project, and this is reflected in the choice of workplace roles that each participant takes up after returning from the United States.

The HRAFF Gala and screening of Running to America was a great way to kick off the coming film festival and provide a local focus to an international theme – human rights film and art.

The Human Rights Arts and Film Festival runs 8-22 May.